Neglected story: Chosica mudslides

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog in the last month, I have notably shifted my attention away from Peru. While that is in some part due to the crises happening in my own country and in other developing countries, it also reflects some neglect of attention to Peru and the crises that happen here in this still developing country. I failed to speak about a catastrophe in Lima’s backyard and the hit-or-miss witness to hope and resilience in the history of environmental degradation and current recovery process.

Following abnormally heavy rains toward the end of March, several mudslides crashed through the Chosica, a small Peruvian city just 47 km outside of Lima. Boulders crashed through the poverty-stricken city of Chosica. At least seven people died, 65 houses were destroyed. Water, electricity and sewage systems were wrecked.

Amidst that sadness, many in Lima stepped up to assist. Chosica is still living amidst a 60-day state of emergency in order to restore those utility services. An NGO started collecting donations of clothing, water and cash in the plaza around the corner from my home. The Peruvian army and many students traveled to Chosica to help clean up the city. Even folks who could not be present in direct recovery efforts still remained in solidarity to some degree, as many districts in Lima cut off their water access for a few days to speed up the repair process and provide residents of Chosica with water.

Not everything was perfect about the response. The mayor of Lima (who is known for corruption) spent those days in Madrid, Spain and was slow to act on the issue. The majority in Lima, myself and most expats included, did not engage in the direct relief effort to clean up Chosica, which is still reeling to some degree.

Worst yet was the realization that these heavy rains were not the only reason for these boulders. Chosica is at the base of the foothills of the Andes, which have been deforested for profit over the last several decades. Without trees to help with erosion, this year’s mudslide was just the worst in a series of annual mudslides in Chosica.

Of course, I am hopeful as many Peruvian friends choose to speak louder in protest of deforestation and in support of reforestation efforts. Lima’s parks and recreation department, SERPAR started a program to plant one million trees “selected by forest specialists to be ideal for Lima’s ecosystem” by 2018, having planted 50 thousand in 2015. SERPAR is by no means perfect and seems to waste water with frequency, but they were at least attentive to Chosica and helped in reconstruction efforts.

Still, I know that many in Chosica will never receive full reparations. Also, many Peruvians I know expect the government to fall short of truly replanting trees and reducing the magnitude of future mudslides. In that case, it is best to look to the example set by areas like Nepal, where communities band together where their government fails.

*I learned about this work after it was mostly completed, but still I wish I had explored getting involved when a few U.S.-national exchange students spoke about volunteering.

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